Obama’s new policy limits religious freedom

By By Joe Nolan, Staff Writer

Revolutionaries fought for it, founders enumerated it and activists broadened it. Countless soldiers have given their lives to protect it. What is it? It is liberty, and from its conception in the U.S. Constitution, this liberty has been continually amended and expanded to make America the freest nation in the world.

Unfortunately, this noble and steady expansion of rights, from the Miranda warning and women’s suffrage to the guarantee of a speedy trial and the abolition of Jim Crow laws, has been upended for the first time in American history. President Obama has violated what is perhaps the most vital aspect of American liberty and what our founders held most valuable: the freedom of religion.

According to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in a Jan. 20 news release, the Obama administration’s new federal regulation will take effect in August as part of the Affordable Care Act. In brazen ignorance, HHS stipulates that every health care provider in America supply free “preventive services” to all women, including contraception and the morning-after pill.

Aside from the contraception debate and the legality of the federal government intruding on a state’s right to regulate health (as listed in the Constitution), this regulation establishes a huge precedent for the relationship between church and state in America. The Obama administration has effectively forced upon many religiously affiliated medical institutions an impossible decision: disregard one’s religion or cease to exist.

According to Sebelius, the new mandate exempts “certain religious organizations,” but she fails to elaborate on the critical details beyond such vagueness. The actual law denotes strict criteria that a religious organization must meet in order to be excused from violating its own conscience. To be exempted from the law for religious purposes, an organization must be a non-profit that primarily serves and employs those of the same religion.

While such criteria to determine what is and is not a religious entity seem fair and balanced, a stunning amount of religious organizations do not fall under them. Ironically, even Jesus Christ’s ministry would not have been deemed “religious” by the HHS because he served those who did not share his beliefs.

The example of the Catholic Church illustrates the irrationality of the HHS law. Because Catholic doctrine determines life to begin at conception, its institutions cannot provide contraceptives or abortion-inducing drugs. Despite this religious restriction, the violation of which is considered a grave sin, Catholic institutions are not exempt from the HHS regulation because Catholic universities and hospitals predominantly serve non-Catholics. Catholic hospitals make up an eighth of all American hospitals. Unable to comply with the law, each of the 615 Catholic hospitals in the U.S. will be forced to shut down its operations.

The fallout, should this occur, is difficult to ignore. The federal government will cause hundreds of non-profit universities, charities and hospitals, which account for over 15 percent of all U.S. hospital admissions, to shut down – in an effort to improve the availability of health care in America. Either the Obama administration is completely oblivious to the decrease in available health care that will inevitably ensue, or it simply does not care about the serious issue of health care so much as its own social agenda.

The absurdity of the government’s attempt to define a religious entity (beyond the standard definition: that it serves a religious purpose) has even more severe implications than the loss of health care for millions. The criteria leave room for the government to decide whether an organization is religious enough to be considered religious and allows the government to determine whether an employee is religious enough to be considered a believer.

When the founders of this country devised the Constitution, it was no mistake that the liberty to have one’s own beliefs was in the First Amendment. The revolutionaries wanted to free themselves from the shackles of the entanglement between church and state that burdened Europe. With the new HHS law, the Obama administration is not moving forward, but it has rather taken America backward three centuries, when religious liberty was only a fantasy.